By working as a respiratory therapist in the state of Pennsylvania, you are in the unique position to be able to help patients breathe easier. Positions are predominantly available in large medical facilities, such as area hospitals, as well as specialty clinics. A small percentage of respiratory therapists may even provide services in patient homes in order to assist with any home care equipment needs and maintenance.
As with other careers in the medical field, the demand for respiratory therapists is expected to rise at an above average rate. Between the years 2014 and 2024, growth is anticipated to reach 12 percent nationwide. Respiratory therapy services are needed within large cities as well as some smaller cities and towns. This makes this career field a flexible option for those who may not remain in the same geographical area during their career. Additionally, some certifications are accepted in many states, allowing a qualified respiratory therapist to potentially continue working without the need for additional testing.
Respiratory therapist provide care to patients who are experiencing difficulty breathing. Services are often provided to those suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, though care may also be provided to premature infants with underdeveloped lungs, patients who have recently experienced a heart attack, victims of drowning, or those suffering from shock.
In order to work as a respiratory therapist in the state of Pennsylvania, as well as most other states, you will need to become certified in the profession. Eligibility is determined through the completion of an approved respiratory care program through a college or university.
While the exact amount of time required to complete the program may vary between educational institutions, many programs are designed to take approximately two years. At the completion of the program, you should be sufficiently prepared to take the required examination in order to become certified. Additionally, some programs result in the person graduating with a college degree.
Respiratory therapy programs, also called respiratory care programs, combine classroom-style learning with hands-on, clinical training. They are designed to ensure program graduates have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to successfully work in the respiratory therapy field. Along with education regarding care and theory, a large amount of attention is paid to various safety requirements, including items such as infection control, and proper equipment maintenance and cleaning.
Course work is ordered to allow the information from one class to serve as the foundation to the next. Along with certain core educational requirements, such as English composition and college algebra, a significant amount of time will be spent on covering various science topics, including some specialty courses designed to provide students the unique information they will require to work in the field.
Standard medical specialty courses include the study of anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, patient care methodology, and general psychology. Additional classes will focus solely on proper respiratory care procedures including hands-on, lab experience, diagnostic procedures, and the use of applicable equipment. Other courses will provide a foundational understanding of other science topics, such as chemistry and physics.
At the completion of the program, many graduates are awarded an Associate’s in Applied Science (AAS) degree for the respiratory care specialty. At that time, most students become eligible to take the necessary examinations in order to become certified to work in the respiratory therapy field.
The state of Pennsylvania recognizes the certifications offered through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). This includes both the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) examinations. Each examination has its own set of requirements that must be met in order to be considered eligible.
Examinations are offered through the NBRC on a daily basis, Monday through Saturday, at two testing centers within the state of Kentucky, one in Lexington and one in Louisville. In order to become eligible to work as a CRT, one of two cut scores must be obtained. If the higher cut score is met, the candidate may be eligible to take the examination to become an RRT, providing other qualifications are met. If the lower cut score is met, then the candidate is qualified to work as a CRT, but is not eligible for the RRT examination.
If cases where a CRT with a low cut score wishes to come an RRT, the examination required to become a CRT may need to be retaken. Cut scores are not published for any examination offered through the NBRC. Candidates will be informed of their results once they have completed the examination.
Applicants to the CRT examination must be at least 18 years old, and must have graduated from an approved respiratory therapy educational program. The program must be supported or accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
The examination, called the Therapist Multiple-Choice Examination (TMC), is a multiple-choice test consisting of 160 questions that cover the three areas of major concern; Patient Data Evaluation and Recommendations, Troubleshooting and Quality Control of Equipment and Infection Control, and Initiation and Modification of Interventions. Applicants will be given three hours to complete the examination and must obtain a score above the cut score to be considered passing.
Preparation materials for the examination are available at no cost. This includes a Self-Assessment Examination (SAE) that allows applicants to gauge their preparedness for the test which can be taken online and covers the types of questions that will be included on the official examination.
In order to be eligible for the registered respiratory therapist (RRT), you must first successfully meet all of the qualifications to become a CRT and have obtained the higher cut score. Additionally, you will need to either complete a higher level educational program to meet eligibility, or meet one of the three conditions for transitioning from a CRT to an RRT as part of the CRT-to-Registry program.
If a working CRT has not achieved the higher cut score, they may retake the TMC as many times as necessary to reach the appropriate score. The results on the retaken TMC will have no impact on the current CRT certification. One path to eligibility is to work as a CRT for a minimum of four years. Additionally, a minimum of 62 hours of credit from an accredited college or university must be obtained with course work completed in the areas of anatomy and physiology, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology, physics, and physiology.
The second option is to have completed a minimum of two years of experience as a CRT as well as be a current associate’s degree holder from an entry-level respiratory therapy program from an accredited educational facility. The final option is open to those who have the minimum two years of CRT experience as well as receiving a bachelor’s degree in a field other than respiratory care. As with the first qualifying option, 62 credit hours must be completed in the areas of anatomy and physiology, chemistry, mathematics, microbiology, physics, and physiology in order to qualify.
As part of the application process, transcripts must be supplied to ensure the minimum level of course work has been successfully completed. The transcripts must include information regarding the names of the courses taken, and must provide official course descriptions to ensure the course meet the requirements. Course descriptions for most college course can be found within the standard college catalogue.
College hours acquired through the successful completion of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) can be applied to the 62 hour requirement, but course completed in foreign colleges and universities will not be accepted directly. In order to have foreign institutional work qualify, the course work must be successfully transferred to an accredited college or university within the U.S.
Any coursework that is not from an accredited institution, such as certain hospital-based nursing or other health-based educational programs, will not be accepted. As with foreign-based credits, if an accredited institution awards credit for the transfer credits, then they may be considered for acceptance.
In order to proceed with the RRT certification process, a Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE) will be used to further assess the applicant’s skills. Prior to taking the examination, free practice tests can be accessed to help applicants prepare for the nature of the content. The CSE provides applicants with a four hour completion window and consists of 22 questions. Each scenarios is designed to replicate the various situations an RRT may encounter through during the practice of respiratory care.
Respiratory therapists are involved in all levels of patient care for those experiencing issues breathing. This can include initial intake examinations and patient interviews, performing a variety of tests to measure overall lung capacity and function, and consulting with licensed physicians to assist in the development of a treatment plan.
Once a treatment plan is established, respiratory therapists may be responsible for the performance of chest physiotherapy, setting up and monitoring the operation of ventilator equipment, and adjusting oxygen levels. In certain situations, assistance may be provided to those receiving treatment for sleep apnea, including general instruction of the proper use of CPAP machines. Further, a respiratory therapist may offer counseling in the areas of improving lung function, such as assistance in quitting smoking or the benefits of physician-approved exercise programs.
Available Work Environments
The majority of respiratory therapists work in medical facilities ranging from large scale hospitals to specialty clinics. Some may work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, while others may perform work in patient’s homes to help ensure the proper operation and maintenance of home-based equipment.
The job duties performed can be demanding in nature. As with most medical professionals, a significant amount of time is spent on one’s feet each day. In cases where patients are disabled or unresponsive, a respiratory therapist may need to be able to lift or turn patients, with or without assistance.
Most respiratory therapy positions are full time, though part time or on-call positions may be available at certain facilities. Those therapist who work in larger hospitals may have to be open to working a variety of shifts, as respiratory care may be necessary at all times. This can include work during evenings, nights, holidays, and weekends. Additionally, over time may be expected depending on the current staffing level of the facility or the presence of any medical emergencies requiring specialty attention.
In contrast, those employed in specialty clinics may have more specific hours that are closer to a standard Monday through Friday, day shift position. There also may be a lower likelihood of overtime, but a higher likelihood of certain administrative duties in cases where only a small number of staff are present within the facility.
As with many professions in the medical field, it is common for respiratory therapists to spend the majority of their time working in medical scrubs. Comfortable footwear is often recommended, though the exact nature of what is required, such as the color or style, may be mandated by clinic or hospital policy. Other options may be available as dictated by the facility in which you are working.
As of 2015, the median annual salary for respiratory therapists within the U.S. was $57,790. Entry-level positions are often available around $41,970 while the top 10 percent earn upwards of $80,440 a year. Along with standard wages, benefits packages are often available to full time employees. This can include medical, dental, vision, and prescription drug coverage, as well as options for retirement benefits, vacation and sick leave, and even continuing education incentives. This makes a career as a respiratory therapist a long-term option for many, as the wages are often seen as highly competitive with a potential for higher income as your level of experience rises.